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Posts Tagged ‘bodywork’

It seems like after decades in the horse industry, all of a sudden, everyone is talking about fascia. This is that thin sheath of fibrous tissue that encloses the muscles and other organs, and apparently, it is really pretty important to your horse’s posture, movement, comfort, and performance. Huh. If you’re like us, all these years of riding and horse care and various bodywork therapies, and you haven’t given fascia a thought, right? Well, now is the time to acquire a whole new awareness of your horse’s body and how you can keep it happy and healthy.

We caught up with TSB author Margret Henkels, founder of Conformation Balancing, her method of fascia fitness for horses, and author of the book and DVD IS YOUR HORSE 100%? She brought us up to speed with how easy it can be to positively affect the horse’s fascia…and shared a few of the secrets that keep her going, too!

TSB: Your book and DVD IS YOUR HORSE 100%? were published in 2017. They explain your method of bodywork targeting the horse’s fascia, which anyone can do. Why do you feel fascia fitness is important to horse and rider? How can your method of bodywork help horses with “problems”?

MH: Fascia (sometimes called myofascia), or connective tissue, is an amazing tissue. When it’s healthy, it’s full of light and free movement…when it’s stiff, it’s rigid and painful. Nearly every horse experiences strain. Stuck fascia is a huge problem for a free-moving, master athlete like a horse. These dark stuck areas ruin their free movement and create a fearful mental state. Fascia is the only tissue that also “holds” emotional trauma, due to its unique properties. When a rider “melts” a hard, stiff area on their horse with their hands, this action also releases emotional anxiety related to that limit. This is a miracle for the horse! They become very grateful to us for this relief.  Riders win and keep the trust of their horse with this work. Also, the rider understands her horse much better. Limits are now recognized as physical issues, not refusals. It’s an amazing new way to relate to horses and riding.

IsYourHorse100Percent-horseandriderbooks

TSB: You first became interested in fascia and how it can be influenced when you had your own physical compensations and adhesions addressed by a bodyworker. How is fascia work for horses similar to that for humans? How does it differ?

MH: Horses and humans both feel much better with flowing fitness. Humans entertain themselves with distractions and diversions, but horses live in constant fear and anxiety if they aren’t fit. Humans often medicate the discomfort. Horses constantly fear a predator will get them. Humans might feel limited by poor fitness, but horses feel very unsafe and judged against.

TSB: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book and DVD?

MH: Fascia is astonishing in its self-intelligence, and it is easy to effect huge, progressive, balancing advances from difficult, stuck, and unhappy situations.

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Margret Henkels demonstrating how to “melt” the fascia at Equine Affaire in MA, 2017.

TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?

MH: An Arabian horse and Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado’s GALLOP TO FREEDOM!

TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

MH: Jump big fences on a talented jumping horse. 

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

MH: Integrity.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

MH: Integrity.

Margret Henkels and Pepper

Henkels with her dog Pepper.

TSB: What is your greatest fear?

MH: That human consciousness will continue to limit the horse’s happiness.

TSB: What is your greatest extravagance?

MH: Washing my car.

TSB: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

MH: To be younger with all the gains I made in aging.

MargretHenkels-horseandriderbooks

Margret with her horses Tanga and Kira.

MH: Organic, local carrots and bee pollen.

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

MH: Being part of a transformative experience.

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

MH: Harry de Leyer, owner of Snowman.

TSB: What is your motto?

MH: Don’t give up before the miracle happens.

Margret Henkels’ BOOK and DVD are both available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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top10

One of the best perks of working for an equestrian book publisher (assuming you are just the littlest bit horsey) is the constant immersion in equine-related theory, philosophy, and how-to. There is so much opportunity to absorb the ideas of great horsepeople and to try their techniques and methods for oneself—or to come to understand their intentional lack thereof (yes, that happens, too). Because really, if I’ve learned anything in this job, it’s that there isn’t just one main highway to our destination. There are many, less traveled, circuitous back roads, and finding them, and being willing to venture down them to see where they go—that is the true journey of horse and human.

Here are 10 important lessons from some of TSB’s top authors:

 

10  When there’s not enough time, do 10 to 15 minutes of liberty.

“Many people don’t get to their horse in a day because they feel it is too big a task to gear up for,” says horseman Jonathan Field in his book THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES. “So they don’t do anything. Short and fun liberty sessions can bring you out to your horse more often. You will be amazed at how your horse starts to meet you at the gate.”

 

9  Our own riding fitness enables the horse to perform what we ask of him.

“The way a rider uses her body greatly impacts the way the horse is enabled or blocked from using his,” explains certified personal trainer and riding coach Heather Sansom in FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS! “The relationship is biomechanical….both species can impact one another. This is why the rider’s role of leadership through physical contact is so important, and why a rider who is fit for the task can ride better—and with greater resilience or prevention of injury.”

 

8  Sometimes, don’t ask for anything.

“The horse follows you with a lowered head and filled with a spirit of freedom…the result of your not asking for anything, just being, even if only for a fleeting moment,” writes renowned horseman Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling in THE MESSAGE FROM THE HORSE. “To be devoted without asking for devotion in return, to be friendly without demanding friendship…that is when the horse can give us trust and closeness.”

 

TSB author Jonathan Field. Photo by Robin Duncan.

TSB author Jonathan Field. Photo by Robin Duncan.

 

7  Control your emotions.

“Try not to go overboard,” recommends Grand Prix dressage rider Yvonne Barteau in THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO. “Don’t gush, fuss, and fiddle about…Be quiet, polite, and still, inside and out. Clear your head and self from all that troubles you, and give your horse your undivided attention.”

 

6  Invest in self-kindness.

“When you miss a lead change in a pattern or test or forget to schedule the farrier before your horse throws a shoe,” explains author and horsewoman Melinda Folse in RIDING THROUGH THICK & THIN, “extend to yourself the same warmth and understanding you would to a close friend who has suffered a setback….If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’ll probably struggle with riding to your true potential.”

 

5  Use all your senses to observe and explore your horse’s body.

“Be on the alert for symptoms such as body soreness, uneven gait, a tight neck, a sour attitude, explosive or resistant behavior, stocking up, and pinned ears,” writes equine expert Linda Tellington-Jones in DRESSAGE WITH MIND, BODY & SOUL. “All of these problems, and others, can be avoided by alternating your training schedule with trail riding, ground driving, or other types of cross-training…expand your training routine, and keep your horse interested and engaged in his work.”

 

TSB author Yvonne Barteau. Photo by FireandEarthPhoto.com.

TSB author Yvonne Barteau. Photo by FireandEarthPhoto.com.

 

4  When it comes to the show ring, be flexible.

“One of the risks of competition is becoming so focused on achieving success that you miss the signs that your partner is unhappy,” says psychotherapist and riding instructor Andrea Waldo in BRAIN TRAINING FOR RIDERS. “Horses have different rates of development and different levels of stress tolerance. Just because one horse is ready for a particular level at age five doesn’t mean that the next horse will automatically do the same. Some horses can show every weekend without a problem, but some horses need to compete less often.”

 

3  Be okay with “eventually.”

“Everything moves so fast in our modern world,” say horse trainer Susan Gordon and veterinary pioneer Dr. Allen Schoen in THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN. “Our expectation is to get instant results. Creatures of low technology, such as our animals, suffer the most for our desire to have everything happen in a virtual instant. On one hand, you need a quick, flexible mind to respond to a horse’s instinctive prey-animal tendencies during training, but it is also important to understand the value of repeating those responses with a lot of patience and consistency.”

 

2  Use dynamic friction instead of static friction.

“Whereas static friction relies primarily on force, mass, and energy to first stick an object before moving it,” writes world-renowned horseman Mark Rashid in JOURNEY TO SOFTNESS, “dynamic friction relies on establishing subtle movement first, then adding energy to build on that movement…establish contact with the horse, followed by the development of subtle movement to establish a flow of direction, and finally put the proper amount of speed into that flow so as to accomplish the desired task.”

 

1  Be willing to have a two-way conversation.

“When you are truly in a dialogue, you can never predict how a horse will answer you on any given day,” explains Sharon Wilsie in her groundbreaking book HORSE SPEAK. “Many of you value your relationship with your horse as much as you value his performance. Deeper bonds of friendship will blossom as you show your horse you are willing to listen and learn his language instead of just expecting him to respond to yours.”

 

 

For more information about any of these books, CLICK HERE to visit the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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MusofLocFB

The major muscles of locomotion in the horse.

A basic understanding of how the horse’s muscles create movement is essential to riders and trainers as they seek answers to training issues, and it also allows them to play an active part in keeping the horse pain-free and performing well by including bodywork in their regular care regimen.

In THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED WITH THE MASTERSON METHOD Jim Masterson and Coralie Hughes teamed up with Grand Prix dressage rider Betsy Steiner and creator of the Anatomy in Motion VISIBLE HORSE and VISIBLE RIDER Susan Harris to provide a practical level of baseline biomechanics knowledge to support solutions to dressage training problems. Susan Harris painted the primary muscles involved in the work of the dressage horse on an equine accomplice, and hundreds of photographs capture their activity as the horse was then ridden through various movements.

“Muscles can’t push, they can only ‘pull’ (contract) or ‘not pull’ (relax),” says dressage rider and Masterson Method practitioner Coralie Hughes in the book. “Relaxation is as important as contraction—or strength—in the muscle….Tension that inhibits the muscle from being able to fully relax or contract reduces range of motion of the joint with the resultant impact on performance. Furthermore, a muscle that is tight is putting unnatural tension on its tendon, which can actually torque the skeleton. Prolonged unnatural tension can potentially cause tendon and joint damage in the feet and legs.”

For more on the specific biomechanics of the dressage horse, as well as dozens of Masterson Method techniques to relieve tension in the muscles, ease discomfort, and improve the horse’s performance overall, check out THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION

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Jim Masterson is creator of the Masterson Method, an innovative form of bodywork that relaxes the horse and relieves his body of deep stress and pain through the gentle and light manipulation of targeted Release Points; the movement of joints or junctions through a range of motion in a relaxed state; and studied observation of the horse’s responses.

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER.

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER.

In his bestselling book BEYOND HORSE MASSAGE, Jim tells us how his Method can serve to improve health and performance, while enhancing communication, with horses in a number of popular riding and competitive disciplines.

“Different equine sports and activities, in combination with different breed characteristics, result in a range of different considerations when doing this work,” explains Jim.

Below are some general guidelines: what to look for overall and which areas tend to accumulate tension, as well as issues particular to specific breeds due to factors such as conformation and disposition, and to different disciplines due to the nature of the sport. Of course, these observations are just rules of thumb. The range of issues can apply to any horse in any sport. For complete instructions on how to apply the Masterson Method yourself, check out BEYOND HORSE MASSAGE the BOOK and DVD, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

 

HUNTERS AND JUMPERS

Nowadays most horses in this discipline are the larger Warmbloods. They carry most of their weight on the front end. They land on the front end, so feet and legs are constant issues. Consequently, they accumulate a lot of tension in the poll and atlas, and in the lower neck and shoulder. In addition, most hunter-jumpers spend a lot of time in the stall—part of the job, but not necessarily the healthiest thing for the feet or for the horse’s blood circulation. Weight has a big effect on the feet and due to the nature of this sport, hunters carry even more weight on the forehand. Sore feet equate with a sore neck and poll.

In the hind end, hocks and stifles are regular issues in hunter-jumpers. Generally, I find the tension in the hind end easier to release than in other sports such as dressage, but you will come across plenty of horses with hind-end issues. It’s important to keep the lumbar area loose.

You will need to keep the mid-back loose, although you may not find as many back problems as you would think compared to some of the other riding disciplines. This may be because the rider spends a lot of time out of the seat, and the horse can carry himself in a more natural frame.

 

ENDURANCE HORSES

Endurance horses spend a lot of time in training so work pretty hard. Arabians (popular in this sport) can also be very alert and “mental” (in a good sense), so can hold a lot of tension in the poll and atlas. Their lighter weight makes it easier on the feet and legs, but they use them a lot so they can be sore just about everywhere.

Hamstrings putting tension on the sacrum is pretty common, and the muscles of the back and lumbar area work hard and steadily.

Fortunately, in general, Arabian horses are easy to work on because of their size. You just have to have a little patience with their responses as they can be a little guarded by nature. (This is just a generalization. I know a lot of Arabian owners consider the breed “cuddly,” but the “one-owner horse” can have a different view of a stranger like me coming into his stall the first time it happens.)

Endurance is one sport where being available to keep the horse loose at the holds during the event is helpful. I find it a good idea to leave the neck alone, but gentle Front and Hind Leg Releases are helpful, not only to keep the horse limber, but to feel when an area might be tensing up. Allowing the horse to rest for a minute in the Farrier Position alone can relieve a lot of tension in the sacrum, lumbar area and deeper muscles in the groin and psoas muscles.

Another thing that helps to keep tension from building in the back and hind end during the ride is to do the Bladder Meridian—using air-gap and egg-yolk pressures—especially on the back and lumbar area. Use the Under-the-Tail Points to release tension on the sacrum.

Anywhere the horse gives you a “blink” when working on the hind end is worth spending time on. Watch his eyes.

 

DRESSAGE HORSES

Also available from Jim Masterson: CLICK IMAGE for more information.

Also available from Jim Masterson: CLICK IMAGE for more information.

Dressage is very athletic and even the most well-balanced dressage horse can benefit from regular bodywork as he conditions for higher levels and new areas begin to “show up” as needing special attention. Bodywork is important if you want to keep the horse balanced, soft and moving forward.

Poll and atlas: Particular attention should be paid to maintaining looseness and flexibility between the occiput and atlas in the poll. If work isn’t balanced, excessive tension can build there, affecting movement in the rest of the body.

Shoulders and withers: As the neck, shoulders, and withers begin to strengthen, Scapula and C7-T1 Releases are important for progress to be made in this area.

Hind end: When the horse begins to get stronger in his hind end, movement in the pelvis and lumbar region needs to be maintained, and as the loin strengthens, lateral movement, too. Lateral Rocking, which progresses all the way from the pelvis up through the ribs into the back of the withers is particularly helpful with this, as is the Dorsal Arch. Loosening the sacrum using Under-the-Tail and other Release Points helps the horse release the increased tension from the developing gluteals and hamstrings. It’s important to keep the pelvic structure and all its connections loose to help the horse “come through” from behind.

Training and conditioning: Often training is pushed ahead at a faster pace than the level of conditioning can handle. When this happens, excessive tension develops in the hamstrings, sacrum, and eventually the muscles of the lumbar region. The dressage horse can become extremely tight in the poll, throatlatch and neck if the horse is over-ridden in front, leaving the hind end to fend for itself. When balanced self-carriage isn’t allowed to develop naturally and evenly through the body, the front and hind ends have to work independently of each other, and the back ceases being a part of the show. Focusing on the three key junctions—Poll-Atlas Junction, Neck-Shoulder-Withers Junction, and the Sacroiliac Junction—will help keep the horse balanced. The Head Up Technique can be especially effective in the front end, and Release Point and Hind Leg Release Techniques that release tension on the sacroiliac are good behind.

 

EVENTERS

By definition the goal of eventing is to develop a well-rounded equine athlete. Overall, the eventers I’ve worked on seem all too often to share the same issues as those described in hunter-jumpers. I have also found that as they move up through higher levels of training they will develop similar issues in the hind end as dressage horses.

 

REINING HORSES

“Reining horses need to have their lumbar, SI, and pelvis and hip joints kept flexible as they build strength in the hindquarters for the sliding stops,” says  Tamara Yates, a Masterson Method Certified Practitioner and Instructor who shows reining, cutting, and reined cow horses. “The Hind Leg Releases are vital, in particular, the position of the leg to the back resting on the toe and asking the horse to sink into the hip, thereby releasing the psoas. Regular releases of the entire hind end are invaluable for maintaining soundness.

“More important, and perhaps less obvious, is the need to keep a reining horse’s shoulders and withers loose. Reiners often travel with their head and neck low, but their shoulders must be ‘up’ in order to perform the maneuvers required of them. Loose shoulders are a major part of a well executed sliding stop as well as a fluid and fast turnaround. Releasing tension in the scapulae and C7-T1 is exceptionally helpful for increasing performance.”

 

CUTTING HORSES AND REINED COW HORSES

“Cutting horses’ and reined cow horses’ stifles and hocks are used more than in any other discipline,” says Tamara. “The torque experienced on hocks is significant and the lateral movement of the stifle is almost constant in the cutting pen. Between events, getting these horses loose throughout the pelvis, in particular the sacrum and the hip joint (along with the gluteals) is a priority.

“Emphasizing the hip drop with the Hind Leg Release Down and Back, wiggling the hock and stifle back and forth with the toe resting on the ground helps to maintain hock and stifle soundness. Maintaining lateral flexibility in the lumbar vertebrae also relieves stress on the stifles and hocks. These horses also need loose shoulders and C7-T1 freedom to make the sweeping moves necessary to hold a cow. Keeping fluidity in the neck with Lateral Cervical Flexion moves earns points for cutting horses for ‘eye appeal.’ Like reiners, however, you need to be careful how close to an actual event a full-body workout is performed. Recognize that some tension is needed in the hind end to hold the ground while working the cattle.”

 

BARREL RACERS

Barrel horses sprint, stop, and turn in seemingly the same movement. The Neck-Shoulder-Withers Junction can be a consistent issue, along with ribs and back, especially just behind the withers. Tension or spasms in the T18-L1 Junction are common, possibly due to the “twisting” motion between hind and front ends required for the turns, and the power generated by the hind end that has to pass through this point. Transition points in the spinal column are common stress areas.

It’s good to keep the poll and atlas loose, as they are so connected to flexibility in the rest of the body. Equally important with the barrel horse is the TMJ: When you find tension in the poll, it is likely you will find soreness in the TMJ and/or soreness in the feet.

 

And be sure to watch for these sure signs of “release” in your horse after applying the Masterson Method:

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Color is coming to the VT hills...here Rob the Quarter Horse looks over the town of Woodstock.

Color is coming to the VT hills…here Rob the Quarter Horse looks over the town of Woodstock.

It’s official: kids are back in school and for those of us in the northern regions of the riding world, temperatures are dropping, horses are friskier in the morning, and jackets have once again become a necessity.

It was a great summer of riding though, right? Whether you’ve had a busy competition schedule or just lots of time on the trails, here are three ways you can spend some quality time with your horse while taking care of him, taking care of yourself, and taking a little breather in between seasons:

 

1 Take Care of Your Horse

The range of motion in your horse’s forelimbs becomes restricted when the muscles that are responsible for moving the front legs forward and backward accumulate tension and are unable to release. Releasing this tension allows the horse to step out further and leads to a more fluid and extended gait. At the end of a long riding season, you can release accumulated tension in your horse’s front end with these easy exercise from BEYOND HORSE MASSAGE by Jim Masterson.

  • Stand at the horse’s left shoulder, facing forward.
  • Pick up the horse’s left foot.
  • Rest the horse’s ankle in your right hand and place your left hand on the horse’s knee.
  • Allow the horse to relax the leg and shoulder as much as he is able.
  • Slowly guide the leg down and back, straightening the leg and lowering the foot as you go.
  • Encourage the horse to rest in this position as long as he can by keeping your hand on the leg or foot.

 

2  Take Care of Yourself

Like our horses, after a summer of riding, we can actually experience limited mobility in our hips and excessive contractions in our adductor muscles. We can reverse the resulting “clothespin effect” with a simple yoga pose called Happy Baby from YOGA FOR EQUESTRIANS by Linda Benedik and Veronica Wirth.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Take a few breaths and feel your spine contact the floor. Exhale and bring your knees up toward your chest.
  • Extend your arms along the inside of your legs, taking hold of the arches of your feet with your hands. Open your knees and drop your thighs to the sides of your torso. Bring your shins perpendicular to the ground, the soles of your feet facing the sky.
  • As you exhale, feel your sacrum, shoulders, and knees drop down into the floor. Bring your attention to your hips; let them relax. Let go with each breath. Relax into this stretch and hold for at least four deep breaths.
  • Release your feet and slowly bring them back down to the floor.

 

3  Take a Little Breather

We don’t always need to climb on board our horses to spend quality time with them. Sometimes, just a quite hour hand-grazing can be the best team-building exercise there is. Another idea is trying your hand at Wild Agility, as Vanessa Bee, founder of the International Horse Agility Club describes in THE HORSE AGILITY HANDBOOK.

“Wild Agility is an enormously companionable thing to do,” she says. “Friends and I go off with our lunch in backpacks and with our dogs and horses—and just travel….These are golden times for us: The dogs, humans and horses all seem content as we move along with all the time in the world.”

All you need for Wild Agility is a halter and a lead rope, and an afternoon to “play.” Move across country at whatever speed suits you, playing with obstacles and challenges along the way: jump ditches, logs, and banks; weave through woods and trees; pass under low branches; cross streams, swim in lakes…you name it!

TSB Managing Director Martha Cook enjoys end of summer on Buster, her Morgan.

TSB Managing Director Martha Cook enjoys end of summer on Buster, her Morgan.

However you choose to spend the first weekend after the unofficial “end of summer,” we at TSB hope it is with your horse, and it brings both of you relaxation, friendship, and hope for the autumn ahead.

You can find all the books mentioned in this post, and many more, at the TSB online bookstore. CLICK HERE TO VISIT NOW.

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